One of the things that continually bothered me in the lead-up to Batman Begins, was the constant talk of how much this new superhero movie had a high profile cast. Liam Neeson, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, all of these people seemed to herald a new generation of superhero movies with oscar bound or oscar winning casts they said. To which I grumbled “We all know Francis McDormand and Liam Neeson were both in Darkman 10 years ago, right?”
Darkman, a mid-career Sam Raimi movie, is devoted to a scientist who is working on artificial skin for...undefined reasons, doesn't matter. His girlfriend discovers a memo regarding her employer giving out bribes. His mobster rivals break in the scientists lab to get the memo and in the process destroy it, burning off all of his skin. He survives however and the surgery to allow him to live without screaming in pain leaves him with constant surges of adrenaline and an inability to feel pain. His skin creation experiments also allow him to look like anyone, but only for 99 minutes in sunlight. In no short order he becomes the trenchcoat wearing superhero of the title.
That sounds like the setup for a shitty movie, but the cast and director work wonders. Darkman is, undeniably a fairly dark and disturbing character, freely murdering his opponents with almost gleeful abandon, and Liam Neeson inhabits him perfectly. We see glimpses of humanity through the monster and vice versa, all of his breakdowns seem realistic and the psychosis involved is consistent and believable.
Most of the characters are well acted, even if they are all stock characters who fade into the background whenever Liam Neeson is on screen. The direction is well done, and you can even see glimpses of what would later inform Sam Raimi's days on Spider-Man. The action scenes are unique and inventive, even if they do occasionally strain believablity, especially near the end, and the cinematography is inventive without being too weird.
Special mention must go to the makeup team, who not only manage to do an incredible job on Darkman's face without the mask, but also to subtly shade the people he's pretending to be to look more like he's affecting their faces. The CGI is mostly good, with some solid twinning techniques even if there are a few obvious greenscreens. And keep your eyes out for recurring Sam Raimi cameo's, Ted Raimi and Bruce Campbell. The script is light and breezy, if a bit predictable and manages to play up the angle of Darkman being just as bad or worse than the people he's hunting, without being too heavy handed.
Of course, it's not entirely without it's flaws. It seems to jump from it's second act to it's third act a bit too quickly, the villains are one massive pile of cliches, a couple of CGI montages that I think are intended to show case Darkman's loosening grasp of reality come out of nowhere and the film can't seem to find a damned thing for Francis McDormand to do. It also seems to be veering a little into the campy area of thing (one scene includes DRAMATIC! LIGHTNING!) which doesn't gel very well with the darker and more serious tone of the rest of the film.
At the end of the day, Darkman is not a classic or work of genius. It's an enjoyable and exciting action movie, and a forgotten gem in Sam Raimi's career. Don't go in expecting too much and you won't be disappointed, but if you want an action movie and you haven't seen it, this is a solid example and well worth a look.
Next on Second Age Reviews: Dressed To Kill
Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and any movie where the line 'Take the fucking elephant' is actually dramatic HAS to be a good film.